Children of One Family
by Pam

Part Eight

 

*We who are about to dine salute you.* Archie fidgeted as he waited in the
front hallway for the others. Although social occasions did not have the
same effect on him as they did on Horatio--who was like a cat on hot bricks
when called upon to attend parties or other formal engagements--he could not
help feeling apprehensive about dining at Tresilian Manor, in the company of
a hostess already disposed to dislike him because of his family. Facing the
Frogs and Dons might be less unnerving at that.

At least he did not have to worry about his appearance. As Margaret had
promised, his uniform had been cleaned and pressed since his arrival. He was
almost relieved to be no more than an Acting Lieutenant at present--it might
make blending into the background that much easier.

"Drat and blast!" Medora's voice, sounding distinctly annoyed, roused Archie
from his thoughts.

Looking up, he saw the girl at the top of the stairs, fumbling with something
around her neck. "What's wrong?"

"It's this catch--on my locket. I thought I had it . . . "

"Come down--I'll help you," Archie promised.

Holding both ends of the chain in place, she descended, then obediently stood
still while he wrestled with the catch himself. A tiny mechanism but at last
it yielded to his persistence. Fastening the necklace around Medora's throat,
he caught the faint fragrance of rosewater wafting from her hair and skin,
and hid a smile. So--even the youngest Tresilian was inclined to treat this
evening with a degree of ceremony.

"Thank you." Medora stepped away and turned to face him. She was wearing a
high-waisted frock of dove-grey poplin, ornamented with a black sash. Less
oppressive than full mourning, Archie decided critically, but still not as
becoming to her as colors would have been. Her hair had been divided into two
plaits, wound around her head and pinned into place. "Will I do?" she asked,
her tone betraying a hint of nervousness.

"Very nicely," Archie assured her, then cocked his head to one side. "Only .
. . are you *sure* you should be wearing your hair up?"

The girl made a face. "Please--I may be a schoolroom miss, but I grew out of
short skirts years ago."

"So you have," Archie conceded affably. "That locket is very pretty," he
added, "and quite out of the common way. Most of the ones I've seen are oval
or heart-shaped."

Medora touched the item in question--fashioned of mother-of-pearl and shaped
like a scallop shell, suspended on a fine silver chain--and smiled. "It
belonged to my mother," she explained, with a trace of feminine pride, "but
she gave it to me when I was six."

"Does it have her likeness in it?

"No, but it contains a lock of her hair, and my grandmother's too. If I ever
have a daughter, I shall add a strand of my own hair and pass the locket
along to her."

"A family tradition, then. It must be nice to have such a lovely memento of
hers."

"Oh, yes." Medora fingered the locket again. "It's too fine to wear every
day, but I like to put it on, for certain occasions. Sometimes, I think . .
. it gives me courage."

"Like a talisman," Archie said, thinking of his Saint Adelaide medal.

"Yes. That's it, exactly."

"Ready, my dears?" Margaret was descending the stairs in her turn. She too
wore something a little grander, Archie noticed. Not the usual crape or
bombazine this time, but a gown of heavy, watered silk. Still black, of
course, its stark hue relieved only by a narrow tucker of white lawn and a
necklace with a tiny gold cross. Complimenting his sister on the latter,
Archie learned that it was a Kennedy family heirloom, given to his sister on
the occasion of her coming-out.

Looking over her brother and sister-in-law in her turn, Margaret declared her
approval of their appearance. Archie thought her eyes betrayed a faint
glimmer of amusement when she beheld Medora's new coiffure but she only said
that the whole effect was most becoming. "So, is it only Henry we are
waiting for?"

"He's still prinking," Medora reported mischievously. "You know what men
are!"

"Mind your tongue, Miss Snip," her brother admonished, appearing at the top
of the stairs. "And show more respect to your elders."

"Pooh!" she retorted, unimpressed. "You sound just like Fanny!"

Henry leaned over the bannister with an air of mock-menace. "Take that back,
or I'll pull out all your hairpins and you'll ride to Tresilian Manor with
your plaits dangling like a twelve-year-old's!"

"That will do, both of you," Margaret interrupted. "We have rather a
diff--*diverting*," she corrected herself hastily, "evening ahead of us.
Let's not mar it with childish bickering."

Her audience, having caught the substitution, exchanged not-so-covert smiles.
Medora held out her hand to her brother. "Pax?"

"Vobiscum," he agreed, accepting it with a grin and smoothing a crease from
his jacket of walnut-brown wool. Society might not require Henry to dress in
full mourning like the Tresilian women but he wore sober colors nonetheless
and no jewelry but a plain watch fob. The somber appearance of the entire
party served as a reminder of the tragedy binding them together. Archie was
suddenly glad that these people--of whom he was growing quite fond--could
still find reasons to laugh and tease each other.

Margaret had crossed to the hall closet and was handing out riding cloaks.
"According to John, the horses should be saddled and ready for us in the
courtyard."

Accepting and donning his own cloak, Archie sent up a quick prayer that this
riding experience would be less uncomfortable than the previous one had been.

*****
Fortunately, it was not raining and the distance to Tresilian Manor a good
deal shorter than the five miles Archie had traveled from Truro to Keverne.
Moreover, his horse was an amiable, unimaginative beast, content to amble in
whatever direction its rider indicated. Margaret, he noticed, rode a fine
black mare, swift and smooth-gaited. Henry and Medora rode bay geldings, his
somewhat heavier to carry his greater weight. Brother and sister had dropped
behind, however, and appeared to be talking privately among themselves. Not
wishing to eavesdrop, Archie kneed his placid chestnut forward until he drew
level with Margaret.

She turned her head to smile at him as he came up beside her. Despite the
emotional nature of the confidences they'd shared earlier that day, she
appeared perfectly calm, although there might have been an added warmth in
her eyes when she looked at him now, a warmth to which he responded readily.

"Not too fatigued, my dear?"

"No, no," Archie hastened to reassure her. "This journey is by no means as
difficult as that first night. Only--" he hesitated, not knowing quite how
to proceed.

"Only?" she prompted.

"Only . . . I am not quite sure--what to make of this," he admitted, in a
rush. "Or what to expect at dinner. Does Lady Tresilian truly despise every
member of our family?"

"Oh, dear!" Margaret's smile turned rueful. "Poor Archie! I did not mean to
frighten you, only to warn you. I know *Edward* extended the invitation, not
his wife--and I cannot believe she is pleased by it nor that she won't make
her displeasure known. But Fanny is no Gorgon, love--merely . . . a rather
disagreeable woman who has let what she considered to be her great
disappointments in life sour her disposition--like curdled milk." She sighed.
"I should be more charitable, I suppose. I have nothing but sympathy for
her over her frustrated . . . expectations--how could I, when I have Robin?
Still . . . she would not be the only woman in the world to have that
blessing denied--or delayed. To me, it often seems that she fails to
appreciate what she *does* have, or prize it at its full worth."

Including a husband who was still living? Archie wondered. But it was not
the right time to ask such a thing.

Margaret continued, "You may be sure she will enact you no ill-bred or
hysterical scenes. She is a lord's daughter and fully conscious of what
becomes her station in life. However . . . I have little doubt that she will
find some other, socially acceptable way to make herself unpleasant and
us--uncomfortable." She glanced at Archie consideringly. "Women, my dear,
make war with words rather than swords and pistols, but I assure you that the
wounds inflicted--while not fatal--can be quite as painful. She may not have
as much to say to you, as you are a man, but I, at least, am arriving with my
loins fully girded for battle."

Archie grasped at a final straw. "You are sure that you do not--exaggerate?"

Her lips quirked. "Fanny and I did not live under the same roof beyond six
months. She and Edward were in the process of leaving Keverne for Tresilian
Manor. Once they were settled there, they invited Hugh and me to dinner. One
of Fanny's first remarks to me on that occasion was, 'My dear, what a
*lovely* frock--I admired it so much the last few times you wore it.'"

Archie winced. Unaccustomed though he was to the way women did battle, it
was impossible to mistake the meaning here. "What did you say?"

"I thanked her, told her the frock was Hugh's favorite, and that I enjoyed
dressing to please him."

"Oh, well done!" Archie approved. With that riposte, his sister had made her
opponent appear spiteful and more than a little foolish.

"The Kennedy barbed tongue sometimes has its uses." Margaret shrugged, as
though trying to dislodge unpleasant memories, but a faint line of strain
showed between her brows. "And it was easier--then--to laugh at Fanny. Hugh
. . . thought her pretensions a great joke." She took a deep breath and
resumed more briskly, "Now, I do not wish you to think this afternoon will
be entirely dreadful. Edward is a kind man, and he keeps a fine table, much
more elaborate than ours. And afterwards, there may be music. Medora said
they got a new pianoforte two months ago." She glanced back over her
shoulder at the two stragglers and reined to a halt. "Do hurry up, my
dears," she called. "Else I shall believe you've abandoned me and Archie, and
think *very* hardly of you!"

The two dark heads leaning close together looked up at that. With an
exchange of embarrassed glances, Henry and Medora urged their horses forward
until they were alongside the two Kennedys.

"Forgive us," Henry began sheepishly, "we were just talking about--about--"
he floundered to a halt, casting about for a suitable conclusion.

Archie grinned. "About how this meal was to be got through?"

Henry frankly goggled at him, then grinned back. "No secrets at Keverne, I
see!"

Medora giggled. "At least we outnumber them--four to two!"

"Hardly matters, with Fanny." Henry shielded his eyes from the sun and
pointed. "If you look through that clump of trees there, you can just see
the main drive, and part of the house."

Archie followed his directions, and caught a glimpse of a sweeping drive and
what appeared to be the corner of a stately Palladian mansion. "Good God!"

"Oh, I'll grant you, it's impressive," said Henry, sounding anything but
impressed. "Can't say I think much of some of the more recent additions to
the grounds, though."

"Fanny's had a little Grecian temple put in by the rose garden," Medora
supplied.

Her brother snorted. "It's not the temple I was referring to." He shook his
head in disgust. "With all the crumbling manors already in Cornwall, what
must my brother do but have one specially commissioned?"

Archie blinked. "A--a sham ruin?" he guessed.

"What else? And what possible use it could be . . . " Henry broke off,
shaking his head again.

"Now, now," Margaret said mildly. "Perhaps he believes it adds--a
*picturesque* note of decay."

Medora giggled again. "I'd not have thought decay could be picturesque!"

"Well, if Edward is paying his workmen enough, I am sure it will be. In the
meantime, we mustn't dawdle any longer. They're expecting us."

*****
The arrival had gone off smoothly. No sooner had the Tresilian party been
shown into the drawing-room than their host came forward to greet them. The
baronet, still not quite thirty, was stockily built and plainly garbed, but
his brown hair was modishly styled, his brown eyes anxious but kind.
Overall, Archie thought, Sir Edward had the manner of someone not entirely
comfortable in his role of family patriarch but sincerely determined to do
his best with it.

Their host's warm greeting was not echoed by his wife. Fanny, Lady
Tresilian, seated on her divan, merely inclined her head and extended two
elegant forefingers over which Archie bowed dutifully when introduced. He
received an overall impression of pallor--pale gold hair, pale blue eyes,
pale pink lips and cheeks--and a certain . . . coldness that reminded him
forcibly of snow-maidens in fairy stories. Yet Fanny's aristocratic features
were finely drawn, her voice smooth and cultured, her taste in dress
impeccable. Unlike Margaret, she wore the softer shades of half-mourning--a
gown of lavender crape trimmed with black ribbons, that was vastly becoming
to her fair coloring. No one could deny that she was a good-looking--even
beautiful--woman.

Yet the Earl of Langford had chosen someone else. Archie had a sudden memory
of Alice, also fair and blue-eyed, flitting about the reception room like a
brightly colored butterfly as she greeted her guests. Although Archie had
been distracted by his own discomfort at attending so large a gathering, he
did remember that his sister had been kind--and warm. Had that been the
determining factor, then?

The two women were exchanging amenities now which, Archie suspected, they
would both have been happier foregoing but that was quite beside the point.
Margaret, formal and smiling, complimented her sister-in-law on her gown;
Fanny, formal and smiling, accepted the compliment and added that Margaret's
own appearance was all that was proper for a woman in her situation.

Lady Tresilian's carefully modulated tones underwent a transformation,
however, once she observed the appearance of her *other* sister-in-law. "Good
heavens, child, what have you done with your hair?"

Medora flushed at the censure in Fanny's voice but raised her chin with a
hint of defiance. She was saved from answering by the intervention of
Edward, who looked up at his wife's exclamation. "Eh? What's this about
hair?" He came forward to inspect his sister, beamed indulgently when he
beheld her plaits. "Most fetching! Trying to grow up yesterday, eh, Wren?"
He pinched Medora's cheek affectionately.

"Certainly to grow up before time, Sir Edward," Fanny interposed coolly.
"For my part, I cannot say I approve of a girl not yet out wearing her hair
in such a fashion. My own family would consider it most unsuitable."

"Oh, come, my dear! You must not be over-nice in your notions. I am sure
this is only for the evening." Sir Edward put an arm about his sister's
shoulders. "For my part, I can only admire any female whose fingers are
clever enough to achieve such a result. Yours, Wrennie?"

Medora nodded confirmation. "I braided and pinned everything into place
myself."

"Indeed?" Fanny turned away with an airy little laugh. "Well, I daresay
Margaret did not have the time to lend you the services of her maid."

Archie's eyes widened at the double slap concealed in those words;
fortunately, his sister was up to the challenge. "Oh, Medora knows she has
but to ask for assistance," Margaret replied easily. "Yet she is so capable
that I usually find her to have matters well in hand by the time I offer it."

Two pairs of blue eyes met and clashed, Medora darted a grateful glance in
Margaret's direction, and Edward, Archie observed with mingled amusement and
dismay, remained oblivious to the entire exchange. "Splendid, splendid!" the
baronet declared heartily. "I do so enjoy these occasions, with all of us
beneath one roof and on such pleasant terms. Good food and better company,
eh?"

The arrival of the butler, announcing that dinner was served, put a merciful
end to further conversational attempts. Sir Edward offered his arm to
Margaret, to lead her into the dining room. Archie wondered, with a dawning
horror, if he was expected to do the same for Lady Tresilian who would
probably rather eat ground glass than accept a Kennedy's escort.

But, no--Henry, his face expressionless, was moving forward to perform that
office, leaving Archie to escort Medora. The girl had regained her composure
by this time, but still looked a trifle ruffled. Archie winked at her as he
offered his arm and saw her relax. Following along behind the other two
couples, he found the opportunity to murmur a single question. "Wren?"

"A little bird that sings all day." Medora's face wore an expression of
slightly strained forbearance. "He's called me that since I was a child. He
means it kindly--and he thinks it clever. Only . . . I do dislike being
compared to something so small!"

Archie patted her hand, resting in the crook of his arm. "Patience, Medora
Rose. We all have our crosses to bear. And he's still a better brother than
either of mine. Especially since I've recently received confirmation that
Malcolm at least remains . . . an ass."

The term was not entirely proper to use in mixed company but with three older
brothers, Medora had likely heard worse. Her mouth quivered, curved briefly
in her usual crooked smile . . . then they had reached the dining room and
she was a demure schoolroom miss once more.

*****

Conversation resumed once everyone was seated and the first course--hare
soup--had been served. Archie answered questions about his ship and his
captain with noncommittal courtesy and otherwise did his best to appear a
nonentity. Fortunately, Sir Edward had little interest in naval life, his
wife even less, and the talk soon turned to other subjects. The London
Season, yet some weeks removed, proved a fertile topic for discussion.
Edward and Fanny usually journeyed up to the City, although, the baronet
hastened to append, they might not go this year--at least, not for some
months yet.

Archie wondered if the delay was responsible for Lady Tresilian's ill-humor,
then, remembering what Margaret had told him earlier, suspected that, if so,
it was only part of the cause. For the truth was, Lady Tresilian seemed
disposed to be displeased by everything.

Sir Edward, however, professed himself fascinated by all aspects of London
society. He expressed particular interest in the activities of the titled,
asking Margaret if she had heard recently from the Earl of Langford, rolling
the words around on his tongue like a mouthful of vintage port.

"Not from Langford, himself," Margaret replied. "I *have* had a letter from
my sister, Alice. They will be leaving for London within the next
fortnight--and she anticipates that the Season will be very busy indeed."

Fanny laid down her soup spoon. "Really? Balls and banquets, I imagine?" Her
tone suggested that her erstwhile rival gave no thought to anything else.

"Receptions, more likely," Margaret corrected her. "Most of them given for
Langford's acquaintances in the House of Lords. Alice would be hostess."
She smiled. "*I* would be daunted by such a task, but Alice takes it in
stride, every year."

Fanny sighed. "Dear Alice . . . so willing to be so agreeable to so many."
The implication in her voice was unmistakable. Archie tensed.

"Indeed," Margaret agreed with lethal sweetness. "Is it not a gift to have
so many people *preferring* one's company?"

Archie choked over his soup but managed to turn the sound into a sneeze,
which he muffled behind his napkin.

"Oh, dear!" Medora chimed in, all wide-eyed girlish solicitude. "Is your
cold still troubling you, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie lowered the napkin quickly. "Oh, no--I'm quite recovered, I assure
you!"

Fanny sighed again, lugubriously. "I must confess, I envy those blessed with
such robust constitutions. When *I* contract a cold, it seems to last for
months and months!"

Like this meal, Archie thought. And there were still several courses to go.
He did not dare to look at Margaret or Medora right now.

"My dear, the next time you are ailing, you must try the salt-water cure some
doctors have prescribed," Edward declared. "Our neighbor, Mr. Courtney,
swears by it."

"I'd as lief take the waters at Bath when I visit Mama next month," his wife
returned. She condescended to address Archie. "Have you ever visited Bath,
Mr. Kennedy?"

"I--cannot say that I have had that pleasure, ma'am," Archie ventured
cautiously.

It turned out to be the right thing to say. A discussion of Bath took up the
remainder of the soup course and part of the fish course as well. Archie
concentrated on the cod with shrimp sauce and let the conversation flow to
either side of him, like a stone in the middle of a brook.

Ham and fowls succeeded the fish, followed by jellies, syllabubs, and lemon
pudding. Cheeses and dessert wines--port, madeira, and sherry--finished off
an undeniably handsome repast. Archie had consumed modest portions of each
course but felt sufficiently replete nonetheless. Everything had been very
fine, yet--deep down--he admitted to a preference for Mrs. Polwhele's plainer
fare. Or perhaps . . . it was simply a matter of the atmosphere in which
meals were consumed. Certainly, the sight of Lady Tresilian picking
distastefully at her food and leaving the greater portion on her plate
inspired neither comfort nor appetite. For the rest, Henry had been taciturn
and Medora downright mousy. Most of the conversational burden for their
party, Archie realized guiltily, had fallen on Margaret. He glanced somewhat
apologetically at his sister, who merely quirked an eyebrow in response,
saying nothing.

A stroll around the gardens, resplendent with early spring blooms, gave
everyone the chance to walk off the meal and the hosts the chance to point
out various improvements they had made to the grounds. Lady Tresilian's
Grecian temple was duly observed and admired, Margaret describing it as
"unique" with a perfectly straight face. The still-incomplete sham ruin was
not included in the tour, which was perhaps just as well. Archie did not know
whether he could have kept his countenance on seeing it. After half-an-hour,
Sir Edward declared himself eager for some musical entertainment and led them
back to the house.

"We've a new pianoforte," he announced jovially as they entered the
drawing-room once more. "And, Henry, I shall have Father's fiddle brought to
you. I know I neglected to suggest you bring your own."

"Good of you, Edward," his brother returned. "Is the fiddle in tune?"

"I've tried to keep it so. But of course, you know more about such things
than I."

The pianoforte stood at the far end of the room. Earlier, there had not been
time to pay much attention to it but now Archie could see that it was indeed
a fine instrument, made of rich dark wood, its ivory keys gleaming
invitingly. Medora, her face alight with pleasure, drifted up to stand
before it, looking more content than Archie had seen her all that afternoon.

Fanny's voice, not loud but sharp and clear, rang out in the next moment.
"Only one song, I think, Medora. Young girls should not put themselves
forward in company."

It was not only the severity of the remark that brought Archie up short, but
the disparaging tone in which it was uttered. In such a context, Fanny's
words were not only severe but . . . unkind. Wounding, even. *Did I just
hear what I thought I heard?*

Looking around, he realized that he had indeed. Medora had flushed a painful
shade of red, all the way up to her hairline. Margaret, by contrast, had
stiffened and gone pale, her eyes narrowing and lips parting preparatory to
speech. Even Henry, who might have missed Fanny's remark but not his sister's
reaction to it, was staring at the speaker, his brows drawing together in a
frown.

Then Edward's voice, genial and oblivious, soared over the mounting tension.
"What's that you say, my dear? Oh, no--not so! Come, we are all family here!"
He breezed further into the room to pinch his sister's cheek, not seeming to
notice its heightened color. "Wrennie has been away for almost a week--it
would give me pleasure to hear her play and sing. And you, my love," he
turned towards his wife with a proud, fond look, "must start us off properly,
on your harp."

Fanny's smile was as thin as the blade of a knife. "As you please, Sir
Edward." With a disgruntled swish of lavender skirts, she swept off to the
alcove where her harp was standing and began to tune it.

Everyone seemed to breathe again, after that. Medora went over to the
bookcase behind the pianoforte and began looking through songbooks. A
servant was sent for the late Sir Robert's violin, which Edward presented to
his brother with a flourish. Henry tucked the instrument under one arm and
went to confer with his sister about what they would be performing. After a
moment's thought, Archie drifted over to that corner of the room as well.
Edward had engaged Margaret in conversation about the mine, upon which Archie
did not wish to eavesdrop; he also did not wish to speak to Lady Tresilian,
still occupied in tuning her harp.

The two younger Tresilians were turning pages and murmuring among themselves.
"This one, perhaps?"--"Too sentimental. Why not this one?" Henry tuned the
fiddle expertly, then placed it under his chin and drew the bow across the
strings. Honey-smooth chords flowed together, shaped a sweet, slightly
melancholy tune . . .

Medora looked up sharply, eyes wide. "Not that one!" she hissed.

Henry stopped abruptly--and turned brick-red, something Archie had never seen
before. "Oh, God." He seemed just as dismayed as his sister. "She--she
didn't notice, did she?"

Medora glanced towards the other side of the room. "No," she reported, with
obvious relief. "I think she was listening to Edward instead."

Henry blew out a breath. "A close-run thing, sister. Let's make our
selections quickly, before we run into worse disasters."

Archie stared at them, mystified but not wishing to pry. They were not
likely to confide in him at this moment anyway.

Fanny rose from her seat in the alcove. "My harp is tuned, Sir Edward," she
announced. "You wished me to begin?"

"Yes, yes." The baronet rubbed his hands together in pleased expectancy. "You
know how I always depend upon you to set the tone of our evenings, my dear."

*****

*****

The musical recital that followed was quite enjoyable, despite the
uncomfortable moments that had preceded it. Lady Tresilian played a piece by
Handel and another by Scarlatti, performing with proficiency, if little
emotion. Medora, at home behind a keyboard as she was nowhere else, played
and sang "Lady Mary Ann", which Archie recognized as a more optimistic
variant of "The Trees They Grow So High." When her clear soprano announced
in the final verse that "far better days I trust will come again," the words
rang through the room like a promise, and Archie saw most of her listeners
smiling. Medora and Henry then performed "Twa Bonnie Maidens" as a duet,
alternating on the verses and sharing the choruses. Both slipped easily into
the Highland brogue without sounding affected or artificial, the advantage
perhaps of having had a Scottish mother and grandmother. Even the Kennedys'
ghillie would not have found fault with the performance, Archie reflected
with a private grin. Edward sang too, giving a rousing rendition of "John
Barleycorn" and encouraging everyone in the room to join in.

Archie shook his head good-humoredly when asked by the host if he had any
musical gifts to contribute. He could sing in tune, and that was about it.
Besides, this elegant drawing-room did not seem quite the place to "rant and
roar like true British sailors." Margaret likewise abstained from performing,
though she led the applause for everyone else--including Fanny--and sang
along with the choruses of "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies" and "The Parting
Glass" that concluded the evening.

Pleading an early rise, the Keverne Tresilians took their leave soon after,
riding home through the deepening twilight. Margaret rode a little ahead, to
offer comfort to a still-subdued Medora. Henry too remained fairly quiet--at
least until Tresilian Manor was no longer visible through the trees. Then he
ran a finger around his throat, loosened his neckcloth, and gave a great
sigh. "Thank God there's an end to *that!*"

"Did you fear there would not be?" Archie inquired, amused.

"Often," Henry sounded a trifle grim. "Oh, I've no objection to visiting my
brother. It's my lady sister-in-law whose company I could well dispense with.
Especially when she's as much of a cat as she was this evening!"

Archie looked down, idly stroking his horse's neck. "She did say what
appeared to be . . . a number of unkind things."

Henry snorted. "There's no 'appeared' about it, Kennedy. She was *devilish*
unkind, especially to the girls. Margaret can take care of herself, but
Medora's another matter altogether."

"But--why does your brother not rein her in? He seems fond of all of you."

"Daresay he is. But he's even fonder of *her* The sun rises and sets on
Fanny, as far as Edward's concerned, and it's been that way since he first
laid eyes on her. Tresilians are like that--we choose young and we don't
change our minds. Whatever Fanny says or does, my brother will manage to
excuse it. Just as he did tonight. Although," he added mordantly, "all that
port at dinner probably played a part in it too. Can't remember when I saw
Edward sink so many glasses at one sitting before."

Archie grimaced. "If you'll forgive me for saying so . . . I think, if I were
married to Lady Tresilian, I would drink something much stronger than port."

Henry cocked his head. "Whiskey?"

"Poison."

Henry stared at him, then broke into a hearty guffaw. "Good God!" he gasped
when he could speak again. "You and Margaret--cautions, the pair of you!"

"If either of you gentlemen has a joke to relate," Margaret's voice floated
back at them through the dusk, "pray do not keep it to yourselves. We are
all sadly in need of levity this evening!"

Henry grinned at Archie. "May I tell them? It'll probably cheer Medora up,
at any rate."

"By all means." Archie urged his horse off to one side so Henry could join
the ladies on the path ahead of them. Silence, a moment's murmuring, then a
peal of feminine laughter rang out, Margaret's as well as Medora's. Archie
grinned and kneed his horse forward.

Margaret was waiting for him, her eyes dancing even as her lips tried to form
a prim, censorious line. "If I were a pattern-card of propriety, I would
give you a great scold for that uncharitable remark," she announced.
"Instead, I find myself wishing *I* had made it!"

"You did quite well on your own," Archie replied, remembering the deft way
Margaret had parried most of Fanny's thrusts. "In fact, you'd have made an
uncommon good fencer."

Margaret grimaced. "When she struck at Medora in that detestable way, I was
ready to throw away my foil and take up a battle-axe instead! Wretched
woman. I do not know what had her all out of frame today, but she was much
worse than usual."

"She was," Archie searched for the right word, "a *Tartar.*" He glanced
ahead, saw Henry and Medora riding together, deep in conversation again.
"Why," he resumed, pitching his voice for Margaret's ears alone, "why weren't
you and your husband made Medora's guardians, after your own marriage?
Surely that would have been a far better arrangement for all concerned."

"And I should have loved to have her. But the plain fact remains that Edward
was the only one married and of age when Sir Robert made his will. Even
Hugh lacked some months to his majority when their parents died. Sir Robert
was fond of Fanny--thought her a very proper young lady--so he made her, as
well as Edward, the children's legal guardian. As you can tell, Edward takes
his responsibilities as head of the family quite seriously. And Fanny--is
not one to relinquish control easily . . . even when she has little affection
for those in her charge. Henry left Tresilian Manor on his twenty-first
birthday and came to us--Hugh had said his old room at Keverne would always
be there for him. But Medora has six more years to wait."

"An intolerable situation," Archie said feelingly. He was remembering how
Medora had looked when Fanny accused her of putting herself forward. He
could imagine few worse guardians for a bright, sensitive child. Medora
might not be locked in a rat-infested garret and left to starve on dry bread
and water . . . but being subjected every day to Lady Tresilian's constant
criticisms and disparagements would surely wreak havoc with her confidence
and self-assurance. And clearly Fanny had not the least idea of how
important music was to her young sister-in-law. Or if she had, she did not
care.

"I cannot pretend it does not worry me." Margaret fretted her lower lip in
thought. "Medora's at something of a crossroads, you see. She had a
governess until three months ago, but Miss Pritchard left to get married.
And truthfully, Medora's so far ahead of most girls her age--at least,
academically--that I think she would be bored to tears at a young ladies'
seminary. She's more than a match for Charity Pendennis in languages,
history, and maths, and Charity's almost two years older. But she's not
ready to 'come out' socially, and *men* have decreed that women cannot be
admitted to their fine universities!"

Archie blinked at the indignation in her voice, then smiled, recognizing the
firebrand who was even now acquainting herself with the ideas of Mary
Wollstonecraft. And why not? A line from the *Vindication* resurfaced in his
memory: "Men, in their youth, are prepared for professions, and marriage is
not considered as the grand feature in their lives, whilst women, on the
contrary, have no other scheme to sharpen their faculties. . . "

*Women have no other scheme to sharpen their faculties.* Wait . . .
"Margaret," Archie began slowly, "would it be possible . . . for Medora to be
sent to London to study music? Either with a good music-master, or even at
some," he cast about for the right word, "conservatory? There must be *some*
schools dedicated to music and the arts."

Margaret glanced at him searchingly. "You think she has talent, then?"

"Without question. Don't you?"

"Yes. But I am not exactly an impartial observer--and we often think those we
love are extraordinary. Still, if you share my opinion on this--?" She
continued, at his nod, "A music-master, hired especially to teach her, might
be best. And it would have to be London--I can't see luring one out here to
Cornwall. On the purely pragmatic side, funds will not be a problem
either--Medora's parents left her well-provided for."

"Would Alice help?"

"Oh, without a doubt. She's never met Medora but I *have* mentioned her, in
my letters. I also think Alice would be more than willing to help with
Medora's debut when the time comes."

Archie shrugged. "Plenty of opportunity for that, later--but does she know of
any first-rate music-masters?"

"Very likely. Or if not, then she will acquire that knowledge at the
earliest opportunity. A formidable woman, our sister Alice. Only . . . "
Margaret bit her lip again, "how are we to get Fanny to consent to this? You
know how she feels about Alice. It would be just like her to drizzle cold
water on the entire scheme, and convince Edward to do the same!"

Archie frowned, trying to puzzle this out. They rode on together in silence
for several minutes, then he looked up, eyes brightening. "What about
Langford?"

"What about him?"

"Could *he* not write, broaching this idea? And not to Fanny--to Edward! You
must have noticed how impressed Edward was by 'your brother-in-law the Earl'!"

Margaret's own expression grew thoughtful. "So he was," she agreed musingly.

"If Langford were to suggest that Medora come to London to be further
educated, would Edward really withhold his consent and risk offending 'a peer
of the realm'?"

"Next month!" Margaret breathed, eyes kindling. "While Fanny is in Bath!
There can be no better time. If Langford's letter arrives and Edward is
persuaded to send back a prompt answer--then the whole matter may be
concluded before she returns! Oh, Archie!" She turned towards him, an
expression of unholy glee on her face. "I think you have hit upon a *most*
excellent notion!"

Her enthusiasm was infectious--Archie found himself grinning back like a
fool. Over their horses' necks, two hands met in a conspiratorial clasp.

END PART EIGHT